By Sarah Lewis, English Literature MA
It is somewhat surreal to find that ABBA is back after 40 years, not only with a brand-new album, but also with an equally surreal avatar tour heading to a purpose-built stadium in London.
News of the new ten-track album Voyage instilled in long-term fans high hopes and also a certain degree of fear – should the now aged and considerably wealthy band be attempting this brazen comeback at all, especially when their repertoire is already full of such well-known and beloved hits.
Ultimately the album is a mild success. Those who feared the band’s vocal range would be notably deteriorated are soothed to find that the pleasing harmonies and strong voices of Agnetha and Anni-Fred are pretty much unaltered by the passage of time. As a result, they take the lead on every track.
It does seem that Voyage‘s best songs were, perhaps expectedly, reserved for the single releases, where ‘I Still Have Faith In You’, ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ and ‘Just A Notion’ are undoubtedly the strongest of the collection.
In particular, ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, once it gets started, has the timeless feels of an ABBA classic. Alongside ‘Just A Notion’, it exhibits some of the album’s best song-writing, preserving what the band has always done best – upbeat tempos coupled with lyrics that are straightforward but heartfelt, using simplicity to power their emotional punch. The concluding lines of ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ of ‘You ask me not to leave/ Well here I am again/ And I love you still and so I won’t pretend’ are about as poetic as ABBA gets.
‘I Can Be That Woman’ is one of the album’s few slower tracks. It presents a compelling and lyrical ballad returning to the theme of a failed relationship that ABBA has always done so well. Ranging from high to low tempos, each track manages a slightly different sound, albeit preserving the band’s style. ‘When You Danced With Me’ for instance has a folky rhythm, but is still unmistakably ABBA.
In preserving the essence of their style, the album does fail to be experimental or creative. It is mellow and unchallenging, perhaps even bordering on twee at times. This is not helped by the song ‘Bumblebee’ or the obligatory Christmas track ‘Little Things’.
Despite this there is enough to somewhat cut through the sweetness when listening to the album as a whole. The strong song-writing of the singles raises the bar of the whole collection, and the lively and occasionally bold ‘Keep An Eye On Dan’ and ‘No Doubt About It’ work to keep things moving.
If we were to ask if Voyage compares to or even beats some of ABBA’s work from their previous albums, the answer is probably not quite. Nothing is quite as impactful as the better-known tracks from The Visitors for instance, their last album from 1981. Equally, there doesn’t seem to be a group of songs to rival the hits that inspired first the musical and then the films of Mamma Mia.
Worried fans can breathe a sigh of relief upon listening – ABBA have not embarrassed themselves; they have succeeded by continuing to do what has worked for them in the past. The result is a listenable, mildly catchy album which cheers and entertains, without offering much in the way of surprise or excitement.
Featured image: Polydor
Have you heard the album?